Pern’s Progenitor Dies: RIP Anne McCaffrey, 1926 – 2011

She had badass tastes in animals tbqh.

I’m going to take a break from talking about Nano today to talk about something else entirely – something pretty important to me that I didn’t even know was important to me until today.

As most of you have probably heard by now, acclaimed and groundbreaking science-fiction / fantasy (ssh! don’t tell her I said that second one!) author Anne McCaffrey has died of a “massive stroke” at the age of 85. I consider Anne to be one of my greatest influences as an author, even though over the years I’ve found most of her works I once read incredibly problematic if not sometimes outright unbearable as a queer feminist. But when it comes to memorials we’re wont to focus on the good, the proud, and the mighty. So here it is.

Even though I recently no longer “enjoy” her works (although I still read many out of nostalgia and habit), to say that Anne McCaffrey had a profound influence on me is a grand understatement. I stumbled into the attic one day during sixth grade, nosing around in my mother’s old book collection (in the midst of all my grandmother’s lulzy harlequins) and found this super-60s-rific book called “Dragonflight”. And there were a lot of others there too, but since that’s the one that started them all, well… (Should also note that Patricia A. McKillip’s “The Riddlemaster of Hed” trilogy was up there as well, but I’ve always found that series to just be…trite. And weird, man.)

Anyway, I asked my mom about them and she said that they were her favorite books as a kid. Today when I told her the news she said she was remembering how she first picked up “Dragonflight” at a convenience store on a road trip to Indiana from California with her family back in the 60s. My mother was so into these books that she wrote fanmail to Anne (and got a letter back with a PICTURE that she’s since lost, of course) and wrote super shitty fanfiction when she wasn’t listening to her BFF’s Star Trek porn. She also made all her husbands read the series over the years. Oh, and she’s now a fantasy / science-fiction librarian (well, she’s a children’s librarian who also happily runs those sections) because of Anne McCaffrey. She was kind of a big deal to my mother.

So I read them. I’ve always loved fantasy and hey DRAGONS ARE COOL, and women authors are even cooler. I read through them all very fast. Yes, all of them. The original trilogy, followed by the “Harper Hall” trilogy (those blow btw), followed by all the other singular books over the years minus a couple I’ve never gotten around to read. And they’re some of the only books I’ve reread. (I’ve  never even reread Harry Potter, so there you go.) Not only did I read them, but when I started reading them I recommended them to my reading-minded classmates as well and soon everyone who made reading a hobby in my tiny class (so, you know, all five of us) were reading Anne’s works, even if not limited to the Pern series. I have distinct memories of sixth grade bus rides and Language Arts classes and a lot of us talking about lulzy Pern crap.

This was when I was starting to get into writing my own original fiction, and what I was reading at the time heavily influenced my ideas – and since I was reading Anne’s books, it followed that I was writing fantasy in a similar vein to hers. And I can’t lie…when I was reading “All The Weyrs of Pern” for the first time earlier this year, I recognized a lot of my writing style still in hers. Quick summarizing sentences, snappy dialogue, and men and women who just wanna get down and party under the sheets with each other (well maybe that last one is more me than her, but I’m totally telling you guys she was the one who made me start writing smut. My first love scenes were Anne’s, even though they’re righteously horrible rofl). Obviously I’ve developed my own unique style that’s all my own since then, but the roots are very “McCaffrey”. It’s why even though now I don’t really associate with her content, I still can’t deny she’s had the heaviest influence on me over any other author, with Philip Pullman coming in a distant second.

Over the past few years she’s more or less disappeared from writing (doing mostly behind the scenes outlining) while her son Todd McCaffrey has taken over the universe. My mother isn’t a big fan of his and I admittedly have never tried him. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish the “series” any time soon. In my world Pern is pretty much the first six books since that’s what I had as a kid and that’s where my imagination took hold. I never saw eye to eye with her on a lot of things…she was very anti fanfiction (say whut. WHUT. I don’t even like writing/reading fanfiction but damn gurl.) and very vehement that she wrote super srs science-fiction. (Yeah k. You keep telling yourself that about your DARGONZ Anne). But when I saw today that she died I knew it was gonna have a weird impact on me. And it has. It’s like seeing a piece of your imagination die. Anne McCaffrey defined being a female fantasy author for me when I was first realizing that was the path I wanted to take in my life. She gave me the courage to write my own fiction, to explore creatures and lands that no one else knew, and to write some fucking smut. (I write better love scenes than she does though, just FYI. Also: more lesbians.) And even though all those books were years ago, it’s so weird to know that she’s not around anymore.

This probably sounds silly, but when I was looking for images of her I saw a lot of fanart and “real art” of her with her dragons, and it made me tear-up. Not for her, but for all of us authors (particular fantasy) authors who live with whole worlds inside our heads that only we ever visit. For a lot of us we use writing to escape the real world and to go where we control what happens, even if for a short time. Seeing those pictures made me hope that one day, when my life is also over, maybe I can finally see these worlds I’ve seen in my head for so long for myself. It was very comforting.

Rest in peace, Anne. Thank you for all you’ve done for me. Have the best fucking mating flight of your life – get that bronze, gurl.Also pretty sure the dragons mourn louder for you than they did for Robinton, just sayin’.